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Seattle police staffing levels continue to fall as overtime use rises again

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(The Center Square) – The Seattle Police Department continued to see its total number of officers decrease in the first three months of 2024 as city officials wait to see if recent actions help address an officer shortage.

Seattle Supervising Analyst Greg Doss presented the latest updates on SPD’s staff levels on Tuesday before the Seattle Public Safety Committee.

According to the latest update, as of the end of March, the department had 1,053 sworn officers, a loss of 21 from the 2024 adopted budget that included 1,074 sworn officers.

In the first three months of the year, the department was able to hire 11 sworn officers, a 66% drop from the projected 31 through March.

As for separations, the department lost 22 officers through March, where it anticipated a loss of 27. Doss said this was the first time since 2020 that separations were lower than projected.

SPD originally projected 120 hires for all of 2024, but has since revised the yearly projection to 100. The projected number of separations from the department has also dropped from 105 to 100.

“The retention is completely shifting,” Doss said at the committee meeting. “It used to be in the last few years that retention was the problem with the Seattle Police Department. It’s not so much the case anymore; we’re seeing separations at lower than projected rates.”

Despite some of the positive notes from the presentation, the department is still utilizing overtime to make up for the officer shortage.

Through quarter one of this year, SPD used 24% of its overtime budget. In a presentation slide, the department said that the spending is “likely on track to exceed its 2024 overtime budget.”

In 2023, SPD spent approximately $39.6 million on overtime, which is over the $31.3 million dedicated in the annual budget. The department had to cover the spending deficit by transferring salary savings from vacant sworn officer positions.

Between 2022 and 2024, SPD’s overtime budget grew by $11.3 million, a 43% increase from $26.4 million in 2022 to $37.7 million this year.

The latest statistics also showed that through the first three months of 2024, a total of 44% of all priority one calls received a response in less than seven minutes. This is a reduction from the 48% rate reported in the 2023 first quarter report. Priority one calls require an immediate response. SPD’s response time goal is a seven-minute median time. Through March, the median response time for priority one calls just under eight minutes.

Seattle city officials said they will be keeping a close eye on how the recently approved recruitment and retention program and police union contract impact recruitment and retention rates within SPD.

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